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Rim Shots

The Pacific Rim Film Festival returns to shake up the left coast with unusual film offerings

By Rebecca Patt

DOESN'T IT feel sometimes like you can just leave your brain at home when you go to the movies anymore? Your brain certainly wouldn't care; it already figured out that the supposedly dead boyfriend is really still alive, the sensitive guy is going to get the girl and who the killer is weeks ago when the trailer came out.

Ah, but at last you two can have fun together in the dark once again, so pack your gray stuff, leave your green stuff and let the 13th annual Pacific Rim Film Festival serve up a program of 12 provocative feature films, musical spectacles and hard-hitting documentaries--all, once again, with free admission.

From the armchairs of the Del Mar Theatre, the festival will take audiences over the widest span of geographic territory yet, from the Maori tribal lands of New Zealand to the streets of Calcutta to the hillsides of suburban San Diego and several points between. There are even several chances to get a guided tour, as several of the filmmakers will be present for post-film discussion.

The PRFF was first conceived about 15 years ago when writers Jim and Jeanne Houston invited businessman and philanthropist George Ow to the Hawaii International Film Festival in Hawaii, and they decided to team up and bring something similar to Santa Cruz. Ow and Ramesh Bhojwani and their families, both of whom have inspiring stories of rising to fortune from humble beginnings in China and India, respectively, have led the effort this year to keep this unique festival free, with local businesses, private individuals and UC-Santa Cruz also pitching in.

With the festival back from a two-year hiatus, this is also the first year that festival organizers have had to go it alone rather than obtaining films from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, but the result seems to have been a slate of offerings more diverse and eclectic than ever.

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PRFF at a Glance: Day-by-day film schedule.

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What's Up, Docs?

Among the highlights are three documentaries. The first is Daughter From Danang, the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The haunting story centers on the Vietnamese-born daughter of a Vietnamese mother and American G.I. father. The girl was adopted by a single woman in southern Tennessee after being sent on one of the "Operation Babylift" flights evacuating children at the end of the war. The film captures the journey she makes back to Vietnam as a young adult to reunite with her biological mother as finds herself dealing with unanticipated cultural differences. One or both of the filmmakers, Gail Dolgin and Vincente Franco, will be present to talk about the film.

Another powerful documentary is Dam/Age, the story of how novelist Arundhati Roy took on the Indian establishment and the World Bank by opposing the building of a dam in the Narmada Valley and was found guilty of criminal contempt by the Supreme Court of India. The dam, which would displace thousands of Indian peasant farmers without settlement, spurred the author to become a political activist, and the story of the dam and Roy's transformation is gripping to watch. Director Aradhana Seth will be attending and speaking at this West Coast premiere.

The only film representing Latinos--and the only film being shown at the Cabrillo College Watsonville Center--is Rancho California, which organizers chose because it addresses issues relevant to the Latino farming community. Filmmaker John Caldwell, who will be present at the festival, takes a careful and unsettling look into the lives and mistreatment of people who are almost invisible in our society: the indigenous Mexican farmworkers who carve out their existence inhabiting hillside shacks in the shadows of affluent suburbs in Southern California.

'Glass' Art

Fans of four-handkerchief epic love stories spanning generations won't want to miss City of Glass, which has been called "Hong Kong cinema at its slickest and most commercial." This film--the 2001 Hawaii International Film Festival's most popular--was brought back this year by popular demand, the only film to ever return to the festival.

Lighter films include the uplifting Japanese comedy-drama Hittobe, about persevering Japanese retirees, and the genuine Bollywood epic Lagaan, set in India during Victorian times with spectacular costumes and music and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Jim Houston calls it a cross between Rocky, The Dirty Dozen, and The Sound of Music. Indian snacks will be available during intermission!

The benefit show and world premiere of Sons of Hawaii, with a screenplay by Jim Houston, is also sure to be a highlight. The film tells the story of the Sons of Hawaii, led by Eddie Kamae, which was one of the most influential musical groups of the Hawaiian cultural renaissance beginning in the early 1960s. Filmmakers Eddie and Myrna Kamae will be present and give a musical performance. Proceeds benefit the Pacific Rim Film Festival and Schools Plus.


The Pacific Rim Film Festival, Nov. 1-5, runs at the Del Mar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz and a one-time showing at the Cabrillo College Center in Watsonville. Admission is free except for one benefit showing. Advance tickets to the benefit are available at Bookshop Santa Cruz and Logos. For festival info call 457.4888 or visit www.prff.freeservers.com.

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From the October 30-November 6, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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